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Iraqi opposition needs unified US policy

>From today's Daily Star (Lebanon)
URL is:

Iraqi opposition needs unified US policy 
Dissidents must be more than mere pressure points

Ghassan al-Atiyyah 

Special to The Daily Star 

LONDON: While almost all Iraqis of whatever social background and ideological persuasion 
unanimously endorse change in their country, the supposed vehicle for this change ­ the Iraqi 
opposition ­ is too weak to do the job on its own: it still needs outside backing. 
A glance at Iraq’s modern history shows, in fact, that all political upheavals and military coups 
(whether successful or failed) that took place in the country since 1958 were supported in one way 
or another by external ­ Arab or foreign ­ circles. 
Iraqis had a chance to effect change in their country after the resounding defeat suffered by the 
Saddam Hussein regime in the 1991 Gulf war. The Iraqi people rose against the regime, and 14 of the 
18 Iraqi provinces fell to the insurgents. But the US, influenced by its regional allies, saw fit 
to contain the regime rather than topple it; Washington thus made sure that Baghdad could use its 
helicopter gunships and special forces to suppress the revolt. 

Washington thus wasted a rare opportunity to effect democratic change in Iraq. In fact, some of 
those “allies” were hotbeds of the religious fundamentalism that subsequently spawned Osama bin 
Laden and his ilk. 
It might have been understandable, perhaps even excusable, for the Americans to have used 
anti-communism as the only yardstick by which to judge their friends in the Middle East in the Cold 
War era. But after the collapse of the Soviet Union, many believed that Washington would adopt 
democracy as a yardstick. Unfortunately, that was not to be: Washington preferred to maintain the 
status quo with all its deficiencies. 
Thanks to Sept. 11 and the subsequent American declaration of “war on terror,” Iraq is once again 
in the limelight. 

During the Clinton presidency, the Iraqi opposition became a pawn in the political struggle between 
the Democrats and Republicans in Congress, which, in 1998, passed the Iraq Liberation Act (ILA) 
designed to topple Saddam. The opposition Iraqi National Congress (INC) was named as his successor, 
and a budget was earmarked for the operation. 
Bill Clinton, then reeling from a series of personal scandals, was forced to endorse the ILA under 
pressure from Congress. Yet the former president never did want to involve himself in a potentially 
messy change in Baghdad, preferring a policy of containment. Thus even as he signed the ILA, 
Clinton was scheming to undermine it. This he did by restricting expenditure of the ILA budget to 
propaganda and bureaucratic purposes only ­ a fact that was exploited to besmirch the reputation of 
the opposition as a bunch of mercenaries, which in turn contributed to its divisions, dented its 
credibility, and led to its losing support. 
When the file on Iraq was reopened after Sept. 11, two main currents came to the fore in 
The first, represented mainly by the State Department, calls for continuing with the policies of 
the past. Advocates of this line of thinking call for utilizing the global coalition against terror 
to achieve the goals previous administrations failed to realize ­ namely, the return of UN arms 
inspectors to Baghdad. 

This current doesn’t believe that the Iraqi opposition can form a credible alternative to the 
Saddam Hussein regime. General Anthony Zinni, now a prominent State Department official, said back 
in 1999 (when he commanded US forces in the Middle East) that an effectively contained Iraq under 
Saddam Hussein is infinitely less of a threat than the confusion of a divided post-Saddam Iraq. 
This current also sees the Iraqi opposition purely as a means of pressure, and has made its support 
of the opposition conditional upon the latter’s commitment not to provoke Baghdad by mounting 
operations inside Iraq. 

Such a formula suited the two main Kurdish parties ­ the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the 
Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) ­ as they are outside Baghdad’s control anyway. For its part, 
the Iraqi regime didn’t really mind the KDP and PUK having relations with Washington so long as 
they were committed not to provoke Baghdad. This state of affairs created a political agenda 
specific for the Kurds which is different to that of the other factions making up the Iraqi 
opposition. While the Kurds can coexist with the status quo, the rest of the opposition believes 
that the continuation of the current situation will spell their doom. This caused the non-Kurdish 
pro-American opposition factions to doubt Washington’s motives. 
The current espoused by the State Department also gives priority to the international anti-Iraq 
coalition. Yet in the absence of any serious prospects for Saddam’s ouster, many countries 
(regional countries especially) succumbed to the lures of economic cooperation with Baghdad. This 
included countries that were once considered hostile to Iraq, such as Syria, further enhancing the 
regime’s prospects for survival as well as reflecting negatively on the status of the Iraqi 
opposition in those countries. 

This current also uses Saddam’s alleged military strength as a further excuse against direct US 
involvement. When the situation in Iraq is compared to that in Afghanistan, advocates of the State 
Department line retort that the Iraqi opposition is far from being the Northern Alliance, and that 
Saddam’s forces are much stronger than the Taleban. Therefore, they say, containment ­ with the 
return of UN weapons inspectors ­ is the best option. 
But what if Saddam Hussein continues to shut out the arms inspectors? US President George W. Bush 
says, “he’ll find out.” If Bush meant delivering a blow that would overthrow the regime, then it 
would only be logical that Washington changes the way it deals with the Iraqi opposition, and 
prepare it to take over in Baghdad once Saddam is overthrown. 

Yet statements made by Secretary of State Colin Powell revealed that the president hasn’t yet made 
up his mind over Iraq, which means that Bush doesn’t know what he wants to do. So how can he expect 
Saddam to know? There is a second current on Iraq in Washington. This current can be divided into 
two wings: the first, represented by the Defense Department, believes that the destruction of 
Saddam must be the prime objective. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld questioned the efficacy of 
the arms inspection regime by saying on Dec. 2 that “we sent arms inspectors into Iraq for years, 
but they never found anything important.” Rumsfeld went on to say that the only way the West knew 
of the extent of Iraq’s weapons programs was through Iraqi defectors. 
But relations between this wing and the Iraqi opposition are limited, because (1) relations with 
the opposition are handled by the State Department, and (2) American military commanders have never 
been keen supporters of the Iraqi opposition anyway. 
Yet civilian officials at the Pentagon, like Rumsfeld and his deputy Paul Wolfowitz, are very keen 
on helping the Iraqi opposition and deposing Saddam. 

Those hawks in Congress who put together the ILA represent the other wing of this line of thought. 
On Dec. 5, nine congressmen (including former presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, former 
vice-presidential candidate Sen. Joseph Lieberman, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign 
Relations Committee Jesse Helms, Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, House International Relations 
Committee chairman Henry J. Hyde and the ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee 
Richard C. Shelby) wrote to Bush asking him to name Iraq as the next US target in the war on 
terror. Iraq, they wrote, is still making weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver 
them. Sanctions have shown themselves to be useless in isolating the regime, and therefore Saddam 
has to be removed sooner rather than later. 

The congressmen’s letter urged the president to make use of the Afghan experience by cooperating 
with the Iraqi opposition “in order to minimize (US) casualties and shorten the conflict.” The 
letter went on to say: “Again, we can learn from our experience in Afghanistan. We cannot be drawn 
into the ethnic politics of any particular nation, but should find a way to work with all the 
opposition in a united framework. The Iraqi National Congress is the only umbrella organization 
comprising all elements of the Iraqi opposition. No one group is excluded, and no one group is 
favored … Let us maximize the likelihood of a rapid victory by beginning immediately to assist the 
Iraqi opposition on the ground inside Iraq by providing them with money and assistance already 
authorized and appropriated.” 

In order to fulfill what the signatories of the letter called for ­ “no one group is excluded, and 
no one group is favored” ­ full use must be made of the lessons of Afghanistan, especially that of 
the Bonn conference. 
Iraqi opposition forces which believe in the necessity of cooperation with the United States not 
only to overthrow Saddam, but also to help defend a post-Saddam Iraq and restore the country to 
economic health, want the Americans to adopt a unified position. The US must stop using the Iraqi 
opposition as a pawn in partisan politics. But this will not be possible unless and until Bush 
makes up his mind on what to do about Iraq. 
Ghassan al-Atiyyah is the Iraqi 
editor of the London-based Malaf Al-Iraqi (or Iraqi File, 


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